Monday, May 30, 2011

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

          “Pure Imagination.” The title of this sweet Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley song, as performed by wizardly candy-maker Willy Wonka, says everything about why the exuberant musical fantasy bearing the character’s name is so deeply beloved by audiences: With its flamboyant characterizations, outrageous visuals, and whimsical attitude, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is one of the most purely imaginative children’s movies ever made. And thanks to tart touches like Gene Wilder’s amazing performance as Wonka–to say nothing of one of the freakiest boat rides in movie history–the picture leavens its touchy-feely narrative elements with edges of real darkness.
          The story, for the few who haven’t read the book upon which it is based, seen the picture itself, or slogged through the shoddy remake Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), begins when reclusive candy-maker Wonka announces a contest in which the prizes are tours of his never-before-seen factory. Public mania ensues, with candy-industry competitors scheming to get peeks inside Wonka’s works, millionaires buying up contest entries to ensure their children win, and kids everywhere dreaming they might get lucky. The story then focuses on one such dreamer, the sweet but desperately poor Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), and sure enough he gets a “golden ticket.”
          Accompanied by his good-hearted grandfather (Jack Albertson), Charlie joins a gallery of strange children and their guardians for a weird adventure inside Wonka’s fantasy-land factory, which is staffed by orange-faced and green-haired little people called Oompa-Loompas. As the story progresses, children who exhibit unsavory qualities like gluttony and greed get kicked off the tour in colorful ways, and Charlie discovers an unexpected destiny.
          Geared toward spectacle in every aspect of its production, the movie is not for every taste; some of the songs are so twee that they’re more sugary than the onscreen candy, and the scary bits like the aforementioned boat ride are too intense for many young viewers. Yet the idea of a land with edible rivers and trees is irresistible, the special-effects sequences like Mike Teevee’s cathode-ray comeuppance are clever, and Roald Dahl’s screenplay retains the most important themes from his 1964 book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The script also bursts with playful wit, like this eternal line: “Violet, you’re turning violet, Violet!” Best of all, Wilder is wonderful from start to finish. His unforgettable entrance sets a (candy) bar that he regularly meets and surmounts; his Wonka is capricious, judgmental, punitive, and ultimately transformative.
          So in short, if you can watch this movie without wishing you were Charlie, then you’ve forgotten what it meant to be a child.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: RIGHT ON


Tommy Ross said...

There's an old expression known as "movie magic." Impossible to define, but you know it when you see it. And they got it big time when they filmed this.

Frank said...

What elevates this film from good to great are the wonderful songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley and the superb orchestral arrangements of those songs by Walter Scharf. This is immediately evident from the film's first frame when that sparkling overture begins.